The Japanese art of living with a purpose

Bestselling Ikigai authors shared their story, insights on the concept, and plans for the future, exclusively on Headway Media

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In our hectic and always-changing world, the one thing we all crave is finding meaning in life and living in the happiest way possible. And that’s what the Japanese concept of Ikigai can help us all with. As mysterious as this word may sound, as inspiring and empowering its meaning is.

To get more insights about ikigai, we’ve talked to two acclaimed authors who co-wrote a Los Angeles Times bestseller Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. The book has more than 60 translations into different languages and has become the guide for leading a long and fulfilling life.

Ready to find out what secrets Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles shared with the Headway team? Find out in our latest interview on Headway Media!

The concept of ikigai and its popularity today

Lately, more and more people show their interest in the ikigai philosophy. It caught our attention and intrigued us significantly because, as we know, today’s culture is all about over-productivity and constant achievements. So why does it seem that the vector of focus is changing? We didn’t lose the chance to ask Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia their opinion on why modern society gets more involved in this Japanese concept.

As it often happens with good friends, their answers were quite similar. From their perspective, we live in the age of purpose. The world and everything around moves so fast with so many crises happening. All these make people analyze what they want to do with their lives and how they want their upcoming days to be.

‘Many people are getting out of the cities and searching for a more quiet place where they can work, leave, and breathe. And I think the purpose it’s the main thing for them in their life, and purpose can be a way of life and a way of living every day according to your values.’

Francesc Miralles

It seems like the concept of ikigai is a perfect fit for the times we live in. As authors themselves claim, during pandemics, it appears natural to start thinking about life, purpose, and the path we walk. It’s not easy to disagree when we’ve already witnessed significant twists in attitudes and the way of living of multiple people worldwide. But the question is, how do we find our ikigai and stick to it? Unsurprisingly, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles know everything about it!

Ikigai: the story behind writing the book

For someone who works at a comparatively large team of different experiences and backgrounds, it was evident for the interviewer that co-authoring a book may be a challenging road to walk. So, of course, we didn’t miss the chance to ask Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles all about their collaboration before publishing the book.

First, a trip to Ogimi, the village with the longest living people in the world located in Okinawa, the South of Japan, was planned. More than one hundred elders were interviewed there, and their wisdom later was condensed into Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. What impressed the two writers the most is how active those centenarians are there. They recall one particular encounter with a 100-year-old man who was impressively active, joyful, and still driving a motorcycle! And to Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia, that turned out to be the most important lesson — always look forward to what’s coming.

The research and preparation time took an impressive amount of time. As Francesc Miralles says, writing a book has two phases: collecting all the information, getting acquainted with existing sources, and writing itself. While the book was first published in 2016, the work on it started back in 2014. The material preparation took a year, and then another one was dedicated to turning it all into a bestseller. And now, after five years since the moment readers could dive into Ikigai, the book has been translated into 60 languages!

‘We have the honor to be the most translated Spanish book. (…) Writing a book is a long process, but it’s very satisfying when people are reading it. And the best thing is when they say that it is changing their lives for the better.’

Hector Garcia

Major influences and the connection between the Flow and Ikigai

While reading Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, it is hard not to notice many references to other acknowledged non-fiction books. Among them are Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile and, of course, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow.

A big part of Miralles and Garcia’s work is dedicated to the second one. In it, they discuss Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of the ‘flow,’ which writers claim to be deeply connected to ikigai. But if these concepts go next to each other shoulder to shoulder, you can’t help but wonder what goes first. Does finding ikigai first help you live in the flow, or does the state of flow let you find your ikigai and aim for it?

‘He [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s] said that our chapter of flow is the best-condensed version of his flow theory. (…) The happiest people living are the ones who spend their lives inflow. So when you are 80 or 90 years old, and you look back at your life, if you’ve spent your life in flow, you are the happiest.’

Hector Garcia

When we asked the already mentioned question about what comes first — Ikigai or Flow, the answer was unanimous. In the end, these are two sides of the same coin. Authors say that it begins with identifying moments when you are happiest and the things that make you forget your worries. And moments of the ‘flow’ in your life are just another proof that you’re following your ikigai and living a fulfilled life.

It becomes understandable when you analyze the four circles of ikigai, specifically focusing on the next two:

1. The first one is dedicated to what you love. And the best way to measure it? Simply by analyzing how much you flow with that. If you enjoy what you do, you always find time and passion for it, and then it’s your flow for sure. But if something in your guts protests against it, looking for some other activity may be a good idea.

‘I would say that the first clue that you have ikigai is that when you are doing the thing like Picasso painting, everything else disappears. And this is a state of flow. So the flow is informing us that we are in our place.’

Francesc Miralles

2. Being good at what you do. It may vary from person to person, but in most cases, if you give up on something too early, you will never find out if it’s your ikigai. Failures and obstacles on the way are not indicators of lack of flow. But dedicating a life to something you don’t enjoy and don’t have a keen interest in will only take you farther from your ikigai.

‘The best strategy, I think, is to try many different things when you are young in life and start introspecting after you’ve done it. At the end of the day, say, ‘OK, did I really enjoy this?’ The point is when you start finding something that you really, really love, the more you do it, the easier it will be for you.’

Hector Garcia

And while discussing this matter, Hector Garcia shared a precious insight that he himself admits is hidden between the lines in the book. The point is that it’s not enough to simply find your ikigai; you actually have to create it. The main idea of ikigai is a reason for being, constant work on what you love and becoming better at it. So if you’ve experienced the moments of flow and acknowledged your ikigai from this place, your journey just begins.

But what kind of life would it be without some great books? Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia shared with Headway Media what they are currently reading and all-time favorite titles.

What do bestselling authors read?

Of course, we couldn’t let our interview go without question about Ikigai authors’ go-to recommendations on literature. The first book named by Hector Garcia has already been mentioned earlier in this article, and it’s Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The choice was not random or unexpected as this work shows up several times throughout Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. And all in all, it is generally an impressive read by an outstanding modern philosopher.

The 2020 Prix Goncourt winner, The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, was Francesc Miralles’s first pick from the recent releases.

But when talking about the favorite ones, he would go with three major titles:

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The author calls this book essential and the reason for it, in his own words, is that ‘it’s a book about love therapy, the therapy of finding meaning, flow, which is, of course, crucial.’;
  • The Element by Ken Robinson because it explores talent and its part in our lives;
  • And, of course, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

But the list would be incomplete without some great novels. Hector Garcia сonfessed that he used not to be that interested in this genre, and Francesc Miralles introduced him to the world of fiction literature. Hector’s first choice to get familiar with such books was Haruki Murakami’s works that he fell in love with right away. Now his flow consists of reading one fiction and non-fiction book simultaneously, which he thinks makes different parts of the brain work better.

But one title that impressed both authors lately is Goodreads Choice 2020 winner, The New York Times bestseller, and international phenomenon The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. They highlight the most about this novel: its fable style, raw dialogues, and the plot, which will catch readers of any age.

But should fans of Ikigai expect a new book by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia? Find the answer in the next paragraph!

What does the future hold?

The authors of Ikigai shared with Headway Media some precious insights into what they are currently working on and when we should expect their next bestseller.

Their focus right now is a new secret book that will first be presented during the Frankfurt Book Fair this October. Till that moment, readers can dive into their latest work Ikigai for Teens, which has recently been published in English. But what is an interview without a tiny piece of exclusive information?

Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia revealed that they felt like they needed to reinvent themselves. This process made them step away from Japanese culture and philosophy and focus on the subject of their ongoing interest. It includes questions that many of us ask ourselves right now, such as self-realization and the definition of happiness. Now we can’t wait for the opportunity to read the new work of these outstanding writers.

While Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life discusses the concept of ikigai in great detail, insights we got from Mr. Garcia and Mr. Miralles during our interview completed the picture to the fullest. From all this, we realize that perceiving ikigai is not the solution or an end game. In reality, it is your tool to live a happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life.

Read the summary of Ikigai on the Headway app and stay tuned as even more interviews with bestselling authors are coming!

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